Doug French

Tonight, the second-most-popular televised football broadcast of the year takes place from New York's Radio City Music Hall. ESPN will broadcast round one of the NFL Draft, with the remaining rounds to be broadcast on Friday and Saturday. An estimated 40 million people will watch the draft, an event that even for the most interested fan moves at a snail's pace.

"We all thought, way back when, how can this become the most watched non-movement sporting event in professional sports?" former NFL executive Carl Peterson says. "That's what it is. Nobody's moving. We're just drafting. Now it's prime time. Thursday night?"

The draft has come a long way since beginning in 1936, when teams selected players based on rumors and gut feelings. Now the business of drafting is big business, and the business of scouting and projecting what teams will pick which players is equally big.

In 1979, the brand new ESPN petitioned the league to televise the draft live. The network was initially turned down by a unanimous vote of the league owners. But ESPN persisted, and in April 1980, the cameras rolled as Oklahoma running back Billy Sims was selected first by the Detroit Lions on an early Tuesday morning.

But it was one man's work that provided the inspiration to televise the draft, leading to an entire industry that revolves around pro football's spring ritual. Joel Buchsbaum was a small, frail recluse who left his apartment in Brooklyn only to walk his dog, visit his mother, or go to the gym. He would leave Brooklyn only once a year — to attend the NFL draft in Manhattan. But the five-foot-eight-inch, 100-pound Buchsbaum was a giant in player analysis, who, as Dallas Morning News reporter Juliet Macur writes,

could tell you anything about football, anything about players — even from 10 years ago. Heights. Forty-yard dash times. Injuries. If a guy sprained an ankle, he knew which ankle.

When a Police Athletic League coach told Buchsbaum he was too small to play sports he began a lifelong obsession with player analysis.

Buchsbaum wrote for Pro Football Weekly and each year produced an analysis of each of the 600 to 800 players available for the draft that NFL insiders considered the definitive draft guide. With his nasal Brooklyn monotone, he also became a cult figure on weekly radio programs in Houston and St. Louis.

Doug French

Doug French is is president of the Mises Institute and author of Early Speculative Bubbles & Increases in the Money Supply and Walk Away: The Rise and Fall of the Home-Ownership Myth

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